We had such an interesting morning! About 5 minutes down the road along the seafront (by bike) is the Meekatharra School of the Air. There are about 5 Schools of the Air in Western Australia and they serve students in outlying sheep, cattle and mining stations. I’ve heard people talk about their students long bus rides at home, well, these kids, if they attended a physical school, would be looking at a 20 hour bus drive!
The Meekatharra School of the Air has been in operation since the early 1960’s. It originally was facilitated through radio, and in the last ten years has graduated to satellite internet.
We were invited to take a tour this morning. We were able to sit in with a teacher (Mrs. Jeffrey) who was introducing reading to her pre-k class. She is the English/language teacher and each age group is slotted a different time during the day. Children of the same grade are able to communicate with the teacher and with each other over the Internet, using both voice and visual. This morning the teacher was turning virtual pages of “I am Sam” and the children were reading to her and answering questions. It was just like school but over a thousand miles of air. The students seemed incredibly bright, Harry wanted to know if he could read backwards to make it more challenging. He was 4.
As well as teaching all core areas (including PE) over the air, the school runs camps several times of year that allow the families to come into Geraldton and get together. Sometimes this takes place at a ranch also. The parents use this time to stock up on groceries!
The school also provides daily mailings of lessons, sports equipment, requested books (the School of the Air has its own library). Depending on the time of year and how bad the roads are during wet season (a problem in the tropics) the mail can occasionally be delayed.
It appeared to be a seamless system, however. The teachers have a close relationship with their children and the parents. The School of the Air is almost entirely funded by the Western Australian government, with a very small contribution from the families. This provides all necessary computer equipment, sports equipment and mailings. The children even have a uniform they don in the morning!
During muster season, there is usually a break from lessons to allow the families to work together on farming. Mom is usually the teachers aide, but some families hire a live-in tutor or governess.
All students have a combined assembly over the air on Fridays. This is their school spirit song, their motto is Wisdom by Wireless, which, ironically, describes their way of schooling now, just as well as it did 50 years ago. 😊